Villagers claiming to represent 545 families whose wooden and cement homes in Russei Keo district were bulldozed Friday made an appeal Sunday for assistence from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet.
Many villagers were still gathered Sunday at the site where their homes once stood in Phnom Penh’s Thmei commune. More than 100 former residents sought shelter from the elements under tents made from blue plastic sheeting.
“I need Samdech Hun Sen’s intervention,” said villager Pok Vanny, 39, a mother of two who explained that she borrowed $2,000 from a bank to buy land and build a home in the commune.
Villagers said they filed a thumb-printed complaint with Hun Sen’s cabinet on Saturday, but did not have a copy of the complaint available Sunday.
Police and military police, carrying automatic rifles and electric batons, looked on Friday as many of the homes in the commune were reduced by bulldozers and an excavator to mounds of broken bricks, fallen roofs and empty wooden skeletons of thatch houses.
Russei Keo District Governor Khlaing Huot, who oversaw Friday’s demolition, said that the villagers had been living unlawfully on the site for about two months. Several villagers said they had been there since May.
Twenty-three-year-old Tha Sopheak, bearing a bandaged left arm Sunday, alleged that he was pushed from the first floor of his home during the eviction.
He said he could not recall the identities of the alleged perpetrators, but added: “They pushed me violently when I tried to take some stuff from my home.”
“Other villagers and I were very scared to protest against them on that day because armed forces wearing police and military uniforms pointed guns at villagers,” he added.
Tep Veasna, deputy district governor, could not be reached for comment and Ly Lay, district police chief, referred questions to Khlaing Huot, who could not be reached.
On Friday, Khlaing Huot showed reporters a Council of Ministers document dated June 30 and signed by Secretary of State Prak Sokhon informing Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema that the Council of Ministers had awarded the land to nine families who claimed legal title, following the approval of Hun Sen, which was granted on June 23.
An evicted villager wearing a military police uniform and identifying himself as Chamroeun, 43, said Sunday that as a government official he was disappointed by his home’s destruction.
“I have been working for the government for 20 years but the result I got from leaders is really painful,” he said.